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The 2013 Toyota Highlander is an excellent choice for a do-all family vehicle, though several competitors offer more interior space and utility.
Powerful yet fuel-efficient V6; user-friendly cabin with innovative second-row seat design; easy to maneuver.
Less overall passenger and cargo space than some competitors; negligible fuel economy improvement with four-cylinder engine.
Available Highlander SUV Models
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For 2013, the Toyota Highlander sees a shuffling of standard equipment and the debut of the new Plus trim level.
The successful recipe for a family-friendly crossover SUV goes something like this. To a platform with carlike handling and ride qualities add roomy passenger and cargo accommodations, bake in reliability and refinement, sprinkle liberally with convenience features and wrap in attractive though conservative styling. Follow this formula and you get the 2013 Toyota Highlander, a crossover that will satisfy the appetites of countless savvy consumers.
Once you're on the road, the not-too-big, not-too-small Highlander is easygoing, and it can even be spirited if you opt for the powerful V6. Everything you'd want in an ideal family hauler is here, notably a quiet, roomy cabin that seats up to seven passengers, plus features such as keyless ignition/entry and a back-up camera that make running all those errands easier on Mom and Dad. While the Highlander's third row is less spacious than that of some rivals, it's easy to reach thanks to a nifty 40/20/40-split second row with a removable center seat that facilitates walk-through access. This Toyota crossover also has strong fuel efficiency to its credit, with both the inline-4 and V6 delivering impressive mileage.
Still, this is a highly competitive segment, and the 2013 Toyota Highlander isn't the only well-rounded choice out there. General Motors offers a trio of larger crossovers -- the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia -- that offer roomier interiors. Other solid bets include the muscular Dodge Durango, the distinctive Ford Flex and the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Pathfinder. These rivals are certainly worthy, but for many shoppers, the Highlander's versatility and friendly disposition make it an ideal choice.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander is a seven-passenger crossover offered in base, Plus, SE and Limited trim levels. The related Highlander Hybrid is reviewed separately.
The entry-level Highlander comes equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, cloth upholstery, an eight-way (manual) adjustable driver seat, a 40/20/40-split-folding second-row seat (that reclines and slides fore/aft), a 50/50-split-folding third-row seat, air-conditioning (with rear controls), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, iPod/USB interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
Step up to the Plus and you'll also get foglights, roof rails, a windshield wiper de-icer, a lift-up rear window, a rearview camera, driver seat power lumbar support, extendable visors with vanity mirrors, one-touch fold-flat second-row seats and a cargo area privacy cover.
The SE adds a sunroof, a power liftgate, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Springing for the Limited adds 19-inch alloy wheels, additional chrome exterior trim, heated mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, perforated leather upholstery, a four-way power passenger seat, tri-zone automatic climate control, a nine-speaker JBL sound system (with HD radio and satellite radio), a navigation system, Toyota's Entune suite of smartphone app-based services and wood-grain accents.
Given the four trim levels with their correspondingly increasing standard features, the Highlander's options list is understandably brief. Its highlights include a towing prep package; a package that bundles the JBL audio system, navigation system and Entune; and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander is available with a choice of two engines. The base model can be had with a 2.7-liter inline-4 engine that produces 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. EPA fuel economy estimates are 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
Optional for the base, Plus and SE and standard on the Limited is a 3.5-liter V6 that's rated at 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic and front-wheel drive are standard; all-wheel drive is optional. A Highlander Limited AWD tested by Edmunds sprinted from zero to 60 mph in just 7.5 seconds, which makes it one of the quicker crossovers on the road. With front-wheel drive, the Highlander V6 returns EPA estimates of 18 city/24 highway/20 combined; adding all-wheel drive drops these numbers to 17/22/19. Properly equipped, a Highlander V6 can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The Highlander comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, side-impact airbags for front seat passengers, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver-side knee airbag and active front head restraints. Hill-start assist is also standard. All-wheel-drive models also gain hill-descent control.
In Edmunds testing, we praised a Highlander Limited AWD model's medium-firm brake pedal and fade-resistant brakes that stopped it from 60 mph in 118 feet, which is better than average for the segment.
In government crash tests, the Highlander earned an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible five), with four stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for side-impact protection. In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Highlander received "Good" ratings (the highest possible) in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander features one of the more attractive cabins in the segment, especially in the top-of-the-line Limited model. Gauges and controls boast a familiar and straightforward layout, making them a cinch to use. The cabin also offers superb visibility from most angles.
There's no lack of space in the front- and second-row seats, but legroom is cramped in the third row, and as such, it's suitable only for younger kids. Models like the Flex fare better in this regard. On the plus side, the Highlander's second-row bench slides fore and aft to alter the ratio of legroom to cargo capacity, and the seat also reclines for greater comfort. This seat's unique 40/20/40-split design, which has a removable center section that stows neatly in a special compartment beneath the center console, makes it easy to access the way-back bench even with a pair of child car seats strapped into the second row.
When you have cargo to haul, the Highlander offers 95.4 cubic feet of space with the second- and third-row seats folded down. It's a robust figure and better than many competitors, but GM's full-size crossovers offer even more.
When it comes to driving dynamics, the 2013 Toyota Highlander is one of the more well-rounded choices in its segment. You get decent handling from the fully independent suspension, and the ride quality is surprisingly smooth. Being a bit smaller than other larger crossovers, the Highlander is easier to maneuver, particularly in tight parking lots. The light-effort steering also helps here, though it is rather numb and uninspiring on the open road compared to some of its rivals.
The Highlander grows even more appealing with the 3.5-liter V6, thanks to that engine's strong acceleration. This muscular V6 moves the 4,000-pound crossover with a briskness that makes this Toyota seem smaller than it is. The fact that this powertrain is also among the most fuel-efficient in the category is an added bonus. The four-cylinder engine gets slightly better fuel economy, but we wouldn't recommend it for anybody except the most frugal-minded, given the sacrifice made in terms of performance.
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